Volume 43, Issue 9 - September 2008

From the Fabricator

Is There a Glass Shortage?
And What Could Have Led to Such a Tight Supply?
by Max Perilstein


The answer is yes. Yes, there is a glass shortage. Yes, it seems very odd that there’s a glass shortage considering some folks in this economy are struggling. But it’s true and it’s something that needs to be taken very seriously.

A few months ago I got the heads-up that inventories were tightening. I laughed it off. I took the attitude that most people are taking right now. “There’s no way. I mean, how in the world could we be out of glass? I thought the economy stinks?” Well, many factors all came together to form a perfect storm of sorts and here we sit on the cusp of a very serious issue.

Many people look at glass as a never ending supply, and while the primaries are able to produce tons and tons of it, their equipment is not foolproof or completely immune from maintenance or, even worse, rebuilds. I believe that while the economy was going crazy, the manufacturers did all they could to keep those floats rolling and, instead of bringing down their equipment and hurting momentum and shortening capacity during the “busy” time, they hung on for dear life to make sure everyone got what they needed. But then it could take no more, the proverbial rubber band busted and it was time. Unfortunately, repairs had to be made and the start of the shortage was on.

“But there are a bunch of suppliers; isn’t it a bit spooky that all are seemingly down at the same time?” you might ask … Yes and no. Not all are down at the same time and, even if they were, it really is more of a fluke more than a conspiracy. And, believe me, when it comes to conspiracy theories (see “Max, NFRC” or “Max, Bogus Lawsuits”) no one gets into them more. This is legit and people that follow it and work with the primaries can vouch for it.

Plus, glass has gotten very sophisticated and specialized in this day and age. There’s a wider than ever variety of products and styles that all need time on the float. That time available to go down, make repairs, etc., is much more limited. It’s not 1988 anymore when the choices were clear, bronze, green or grey, with the occasional reflective mixed in. Believe me, if we didn’t have the insane amount of choices that we have these days, we probably would never run out.

So that’s part one of the storm. Then a few months back one of the primaries announced that it was shutting down some of their operations and that caused a major domino effect and that too had an effect on capacity and production (see May 2008 USGlass, page 16). At the time, it was thought it would be no more than a blip, but the removal of that capacity from the market made more of a wave then people expected.

The other major factor that plays into this is the explosive growth in the solar arena. Solar panels and concentrators devour glass. A ton of it is used for these emerging technologies and even though we use very little in the United States, it is being used more and more elsewhere and, in some cases, production here has been shifted to meet those needs (see July 2008 USGlass, page 42).

So between major maintenance needs, decreased capacity due to plant closures and the emerging growth of the solar world, we find ourselves in this predicament. What do we do now? Will we really run out of glass and see situations where people can only order on even and odd days and lines of trucks will be waiting at the float plant like it was a gas station in 1977? No, it won’t be that bad, but it will be bad enough that proper planning will be needed to be able avoid severe delays on jobs. We’ll get glass, but the turns may not be what everyone has gotten so spoiled by in the last few years. So being proactive is an absolute must. Communicating with your customer is an out and out absolute. Doing anything less would be brutal.

This is where I’ll get accused of being a shill for the primaries. Sorry, I can’t take that title, I have always called it like I see it and if they were in the wrong, I’d be first in line either online at my blog or in the pages of USGlass. So the answer is yes ... and let’s hope that we can roll with these punches along with everything else we have to deal with in these trying times.


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